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possess'no gifts but those of the preacher, is there not reason to suspect that they are not acting the part which, as Christians, they ought to do? But the preacher is a convenient cover for this defect, and so long as they have him to screan their indolence they are satisfied. If, on the contrary, the church does actually possess abilities for its own edification, and these are never employed, who but the priest prevents their being brought into action? Are we to suppose that, in the various churches in this country ; there is to he found only one man in each, or at the most but two men capnble of edifying the body? Let any one attend even a modern enlightened Unitarian assembly, and if he is to judge from appearances, he must soon conclude that they possess but little claim to the appellation of" enlightened.'" If they are enlightened, they reflect very little of their light by sitting dumb from the one end of the year to the other.
Let us then suppose that in a society of this description there are only tennnen who possess abilities for edifying their brethren, and that those men never attempt any tiling of the kind, even in case of its being impracticable for the preacher to be in the assembly, is there not manifestly a fault among them ? for allowing that the preacher is a man of ability, and that he ought to render himself useful by exercising his talents in the church, here are other ten men, whose talents may in some respects be superior to his own, prevented by him from performing their duty. Reckoning in this way, the churches might soon see how useful their clergy are to them.
When these things are pointed out, the cry is immediately raised—"you wish to sap the foundation of all Christian order in the churches, and to throw every thing into confusion ; you would deprive us of pastors and teachers, and bring Christianity into the greatest contempt." No such thing ; the farthest from it possible; we only wish the priest to assume the man; to lay aside all his vain pretensions to superiority in the church; to act as a member of the body to which he belongs, without preventing the others from doing the same. If he possess great talents, this will afford him a more enlarged sphere for their exercise, instead of abridging his usefulness. We wish the churches to act like men who are in earnest in their profession; to take an active part in their public assemblies; and thus, by imitating the churches of God which were inJudea, exhibit the power of'the doctrine of Jesus on the mind. Is it replied, " these things .are impracticable under present circumstances?" we would ask what it is that renders them so, but the interest of a too powerful body of men called clergymen. But what has this to do with the duty of Christians? The clergy, as a body, have no more to do with the sacred duties of a Christian church than the Board of Excise :,ave. Are Christians ire this country placed in more unfavourable circumstances than the Christians in Ephesus, in Rome, or in Thessalcnica were? In Thessalonica, even when Paul, to save his life bad fled from them, we find the Christians continuing to assemble together, buffeting the storm of persecution with undaunted courage; standing fast in the doctrine of the apostles; exhorting, comforting, strengthening, and edifying one another. Actsxvii. 1, 12. 1 Thess. iii. 5, 11.
The elders of the church in Ephesus appear to have been very differently circumstanced from our clergy; they seem to have followed the advice and example of Paul, who, when among the Christians of that place, while he preached the gospel, and disputed daily with the Jews for the space of two years, laboured, working with Ins hands, that he might riot be chargeable to them. Acts xx. 53, 35. Indeed whether we consider the conduct of the people, or that of their leaders, we find nothing in either that corresponds with the manner in which the first Christians acted. The ancient Christians naturally associated together in consequence of their having embraced the same doctrines; and, considering themselves members of the same body, they excited each other to abound in love and good works, and to wait for the hope of resurrection to eternal life. They were united bodies of active men; and by their conduct they spread abroad every where the doctrines of Christianity; their faith and love became so conspicuous, that Paul thought it unnecessary to say any thing concerning them. I Thess. i. In their case, wisdom was indeed justified of her children. Their office bearers were men of tried character and exemplary virtue; they grew up in the church, and were chosen to hold the offices they filled ; in consequence of having shewn themselves qualified for them. Thus was Christianity originally exhibited. The church thus constituted had, within itself, every necessary means for the propagation of its doctrines; and but for the interference of foreign aid, would have flourished to this day.
With modern Christians the case stands very differently. All that the apostles and first Christians did and said, is of no use without a minister; and this minister is not a man who has, in the church, given full proof of possessing the qualifications mentioned as necessary to fit him for the office, by Paul, 1 Tim. iii. 1 to 10; but generally a young
Now what are the advantages resulting to Christianity from this practice? Allowing that there is some temporary benefit accrues from it to individuals, yet the good is nothing when compared with the real evils of which it is productive. Mark the effect of it on the minds of the rising generation ; from the period at which they begin to think, they are thus taught to associate in their minds the idea of the necessity of a priest with all the ideas they have of Christianity: they are taught to do hi.m homage as a being superior to his fellow creatures. Perhaps some into whose hands these remarks may fall, do still remember the sensations excited in their breasts, when they appeared before the minister for examination ; they trembled at the very thought of it, and wished themselves engaged in any thing rather than undergo such drudgery.
The clergy may, and actually do, by such means promote their own influence, but they at the same time do much mischief to Christianity. And let me ask the warmest advocate for these things, whether, if Christians acted the part they ought to do, there would be any necessity for the private labours of the clergy? If the ignorance of youth, and the incapacity of parents to instruct their children are urged, may we not in reply ask, whether this does not originate in the improper and unprofitable mode of public teaching pursued in this country? This devolving entirely on one man, and its being considered his peculiar prerogative, no one else ever thinks of attempting it.
Many thousands of parents spend their days in liearing of* sermons, who might, did they but employ their talents, render themselves highly serviceable in their own families, and in the church of God; might completely remove the supposed necessity of the private as well as the public teaching of the priest; and by representing Christianity in its own colours, divesting it of all the appalling and gloomy appendages with which superstition has clogged it, recommend it to men as a thing in which they are deeply interested, and as suited to make them superlatively happy, by promoting their welfare as immortal creatures.
In whatever light then we consider the clergy,"as a body, it is obvious that they form a grand hindrance to Christianity. To argue that they do some good, is saying nothing; the question is whether, at least, ten thousand times more good might not be effected were the order completely annihilated, and Christians in general becoming active, and exercising those talents which God has given them, and for the use of which they are responsible. Let the clergy re
fleet that they are the cause of thousands hiding their talents in a napkin; and let the churches consider the loss they thus suffer; let them remember that they are accountable ;. let them blush when they think of the stationary state in which they are, as to improvement, and, arousing from their, torpor, acquit themselves like men, and like Christians.
Before dismissing this subject, I must, in justice to the clergy,.own that in oae respect they have of late begun to> make themselves useful; I refer to the countenance and support which they give to the Bible Society. From whatever motives this is done, whether it be because the institution is become popular, or from a real desire to promote the knowledge of Christianity, I pretendnot to judge; but certain it is that they are exerting themselves with much apparent zeal in its service. In this way they may make themselves useful; for, when they exert their eloquence in favour of this society, they are labouring to convince the world, that it may do very well without priests ; and, perhaps, they could hardly render the world a more essential service. The professed design of the Bible Society is to circulate the commonly received version of the scriptures; without note or comment.
Now, if this resolution has any meaning, it must imply, that they consider the scriptures, simply as they are, without the intervention of any one, in every respect sufficient to make mankind what they ought to be. Not any comment; no, not a single note of explanation is to accompany this book; consequently, those who receive it are to be their own commentators; they must read, and think foe themselves; they must exercise their reason, and put that construction on the text of scripture, which common sense dictates.
If, then, they are to be thus presented to those who have never before seen them, nor even heard of them, what is the reason why they should be deemed less potent in the hands of those who have read them from their infancy? Surely, if the dark and idolatrous nations of the earth may be reformed,-and converted to Christianity by the scriptures alone* it argues dullness of hearing, with a witjness, in the inhabitants of this country, that so few of them appear to know any thing about Christianity, except wly»t they derive from priests and commentators. Perhaps, how* ever, if, in this enlightened land, we had had the scriptures without note or comment, we should have known much more of Christianity than we do. , Some of the clergy seem to be of this opinion, as is evident
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